System Map

How the Bail System Works

This interactive visual map explains how the bail system works to new audiences. Users should come away knowing: the stages of the bail process, what decisions impact the accused, what systemic problems exist, and how these problems lead to unjust outcomes.

To make this information accessible to a broad audience, we made editorial and design decisions to simplify the bail process. We’re seeking feedback from the legal community on our system map concept, design, content, and user interactions.

Meet the characters

Accused Person

An Accused is someone charged by the police with committing a criminal offence. Many accused deal with severe personal trauma and belong to groups that are marginalized by systemic discrimination, underfunded public services, and social stigma. Marginalized groups include people who identify as Black and Indigenous, struggle with addiction or mental health, have precarious housing or are homeless, and have been denied educational or economic opportunities.

Correctional Workers

Ontario’s jails are operated by a wide range of Correctional Workers that include guards, health care providers, rehabilitation services, and other logistics like transportation, food services, etc. Ontario’s jails are severely underfunded and understaffed. The large majority of prisoners in Ontario jails are legally innocent and simply waiting for a bail hearing.

Crown Prosecutor

When the police bring an Accused into the bail system, a Crown Prosecutor must decide whether or not releasing the Accused will pose a safety risk to the community. The Crown Prosecutor must evaluate the criminal charges laid by police and form an opinion about whether the accused should be released on a Bail Plan and what conditions the plan should include.

Defence Lawyer

Since most accused are unable to afford a lawyer, the government funds Legal Aid Ontario to provide “Duty Counsel” services. Duty Counsel are lawyers who are on-call at the courthouse to help the accused get bail and defend themselves. The Duty Counsel program is severely underfunded.

Judicial Officer

In Ontario bail courts, the final decision on whether to grant bail is most often made by a Justice of the Peace (a “JOP”) which is not the same as a judge. In the past, many JOPs did not have adequate legal training which led to bail decisions where the law was not applied consistently or correctly. While there have been major improvements since 2017, a wide range of challenges remain.

Police Officer

The role of a Police Officer is to protect the safety of all residents and investigate potential crimes. In Ontario, it is a police officer that decides whether (a) to force the Accused to go through a bail hearing or (b) to allow to bypass the bail process altogether (permitting the Accused to live in their community until their criminal charges get resolved).

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